One of the secrets to making a good album is creating a setting that fosters creation.
Just look at Justin Vernon's prolonged sessions in the forests of Wisconsin to make Bon Iver's debut. Philadelphia-based multi-instrumentalist Andy Moholt was listening; his latest release under solo project Laser Background, Dark Nuclear Bogs, was recorded in an isolated Georgia lake house with Carlos Hernandez and Julian Fader of fuzzed-out indie rock band Ava Luna. With a name like that, it would be easy to expect heavy synthesizer; more often than not, the psych pop project edges toward dreamy guitar and indie pop flourishes married with psych rock vocal distortions. Think Tame Impala by way of field trip. Moholt is currently on tour, having just finished a New York City show at Ridgewood venue Trans Pecos.
We caught up with Moholt via email to talk about isolating himself to make a record, touring, and the frameworks of life and death that structured Dark Nuclear Bogs.
You mentioned in a press release that the album concerns the journey of life, framed by an opening track representing life and a final track representing death. How do you think the album's sound was affected with this framework?
I like to structure albums with a loose concept and not focus too hard on it while writing. I do think that we intentionally ended up sequencing the album front-loaded with some more exciting tracks and then putting some darker, more downer tracks towards the end to try to achieve a linear downward slope. I like the idea also of like "everything is fucked and crashing, but also that's totally okay." Pretty much, as soon as we are born, we start dying.
I believe very strongly that death is overly-stigmatized in Western culture, especially considering that besides being born it's the only thing that's definitely going to happen to all of us. Unless we live long enough to witness the singularity or upload our consciousness to the cloud, but that's another conversation that you can (and will) have with me if we hang out at 3 AM.
The album was recorded mostly in a lake house that you rented. How do you see this hyper-focused retreat into music reflected in the sound?
We spent two weeks in March 2016 at my friend Brandon Jones family's lake house in rural Georgia. The primary structure of the record was recorded there, but I did a lot of overdubs later. The lake house session was done on a Tascam 388, and most of the overdubs were done on a 488 mkii. Anyway; making a "destination" record was amazing! I never want to record any other way ever again. I think waking up every day & going to "work" on the task at hand helped us get really lost in the process. Not having much of our regular lives to contend with really allowed us to fully focus on the material, and the mental state that we were in at different times definitely affected the outcome of the songs. For instance, on "Slubberdegullion" we intentionally recorded the song super late at night while we were all very drunk. I wanted the song to be be both sludgy and manic, so we waited until we were in that state to track it.
Describe a normal day in the house.
Carlos, Julian & I would usually wake up around 10 or 11 AM every day. Julian would often go for a run. We would all binge on a copious amount of coffee each morning, and I'd usually make some kind of eggy breakfast. Then we'd get to work: either listening through whatever we completed the night before, or jumping right into whatever the next song was on our list. At night, we had a favorite shitty faux-Mexican place that we found nearby that we'd get margaritas at. Occasionally we'd have friends pop by, sometimes for a few days, which was nice. I recall that session as a very idyllic two weeks with a few close friends that I really care about.
You've just kicked off your tour; how is it going so far? Why start in New York?
Tour is great so far. As I write this, we are at a campground chilling and eating snacks, listening to tapes and getting a lil' work done. I got a tiny camper-trailer recently, and it has totally changed my tour life. We started at Bard College because a) I really like playing there, and b) putting a couple college shows at the beginning of a tour can help fund the whole tour sometimes. Really excited because in the next few days we are playing with some amazing bands!
What was your favorite track to write for Dark Nuclear Bogs?
Favorite track to write specifically was probably "Mostly Water," because that one was written at 6 AM after staying up all night as I was finally falling asleep. If you can't tell, I stay up all night most nights. I was actually really mad, because I was holding the guitar in my hands as I was drifting off and when I realized the riff I wrote was good, then I had to get up and make a demo, meaning I didn't actually fall asleep until 9 AM or so. As a result, the song itself ended up being lyrically informed by staying up all night.
What was it like recording with members of Ava Luna?
I absolutely LOVE working with Carlos & Julian. They aren't afraid to challenge my ideas, but also understand my sensibility and our opinions usually align quite well. This is the second LP I've made with them, the first being Correct. Will almost certainly be working with them again in the future.
The album is soon to be released into the world. Are you excited to finally get this out there?
Sure, I'm looking forward to it. I sat on the last record for over a year (it was mastered in November 2014 and I didn't release it until May 2016), so I decided to do the reverse with this one and release it almost instantly.
As this project continues to grow, where do you hope to take it?
I just want to keep making music that excites me.